The Corner

Culture

Rooney Rule Rubbish

There’s a front-page story in the Washington Post today, which pretends to be a news article but is really an editorial extolling an Oregon state law that requires state-funded schools to follow the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule,” which in turn requires at least one minority to be interviewed when there is a vacancy for a head coaching position. Putting aside my quaint notion that news stories should be unbiased, there are two problems with the Post article.

First, its endorsement of the law is based on the premise that something dramatic must be done to address the shortage of black football coaches. But the article cites no convincing evidence of such a shortage. It says that most football players are black, but that’s not the pool from which coaches are hired. It says that only seven of 65 Power Five conference coaches are black, and only 14 of 128 major college coaches are black, but in both instances that works out to 11 percent. That, in turn, is not much out of line with the black percentage of the general population, which is 13 percent (and the Post acknowledges that a few years ago the percentage of major college black coaches was actually 18, which means they were then overrepresented). If you factor in the likelihood that most coaches will (a) have a college degree and (b) several years of experience and (c) be male, then I would be astonished if there is any underrepresentation at all.

Second, there is no mention of the fact that the Rooney Rule is illegal. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination in private and public employment, and in particular makes it illegal for an employer to “classify his . . . applicants for employment” in a way that discriminates on the basis of race.

It might be objected that there’s no harm here, since it’s only requiring an additional interview. But suppose the shoe were on the other foot, and the requirement was that at least one white candidate always be interviewed. Would that fly?

And there will be harm. Suppose that a team normally narrows the field to four candidates and then interviews them. If it keeps this rule, then if you’re white candidate number four, you’re out of luck, because now you have to make way for the minority interviewee. Suppose the team decides to interview a fifth candidate instead. Well, the minority coach who was the tenth choice now leapfrogs over white candidates six, seven, eight, and nine — all out of luck because they are the wrong color. And, of course, if the minority candidate is hired, then one of the white finalists — the one who would have gotten the job otherwise — is out of luck, too.

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